Mark Gable is the front man and founding member of the Australian hard rock band, The Choirboys. Formed in 1978, with Mark on lead vocals, Ian Hulme on bass guitar, Brad Carr on lead guitar and Lindsay Tebbutt on drums. He also penned the classic Australian anthem, Run To Paradise.
The Choirboys are currently on tour around the country paying homage to the great AC/DC. Their first set comprises of AC/DC’s debut with Bon Scott, High Voltage, recorded in 1974, sung cover the cover. The second, the final album with Bon Scott, 1979’s Highway To Hell, with a Choirboys set added at the end as well. They’ve already done three shows to amazing response.
“We are a band that was around when AC/DC were around. We were signed to the same label, we used the same producer, and we recorded our first album in the same studio that AC/DC did their first six albums in – so we have a history. The premise behind what we’ve been doing is reliving what they represented, particularly in the 70s. They’re probably the most successful band in the world and definitely the most successful band to ever come out of Australia. They’re massive!”
They’re performing the songs as if they had written and performed them themselves. And while not pretending to be the original members, they don’t talk during the performance giving the audience an idea of how it would have been to listen to AC/DC in a pub back in the day.
“Us, old, rock n roll people, we get up there and we’re dedicated. We keep going. We keep on rocking! We’re getting later in life – we want to do stuff. We don’t want to sit around. We want to have some fun, create stuff, make it interesting and do different things all the time.”
The show runs long at 2 hours twenty minutes, with a ten-to-fifteen break in between two sets. It’s partly this discipline that attributes to the band’s stamina and longevity in the industry – something almost unheard of these days. Despite the lengthy shows, it’s often the controversial lyrics by AC/DC lyricist, Bon Scott that the self-described feminist struggles with the most.
“You listen to the lyrics of Bon Scott and you go, “Do I really gotta sing this one?” because it’s about treating women quite badly. But, you put it in perspective, it was right for the times, Bon Scott was a great lyricist, and the music is a whole lot of fun. In a matter of fact, I consider the music to be works of art and so it’s a whole lot of fun doing it. It goes down so well with the audience to our pleasant surprise.”
“The 70s really were an amazing time. Not just in Australia, but all over the world, because there was nothing but the promise of happiness all over the world. [But] you had AC/DC talking about treating women badly, which I find a little distressing. I don’t see the world from a chauvinistic eye. I think women have had a bad lot since forever and we’re getting to a time where it’s starting to get better.”
The Choirboys are perhaps most known for their 1987 hit single, Run To Paradise, which Mark penned himself, remains just as popular today to audiences around the world. The song was also reworked for a 2004 release credited to Nick Skitz vs. The Choirboys and reached No. 16 on the ARIA Singles Chart.
“It’s been such an amazing song. It’s still current now as it was 30 years ago. People love that song. Teenagers love that song. Even though we’ve had other hits – there’s a reason it’s so insanely popular. It’s got something about it that fills people with joy and makes them feel happy. People think it’s about heroin and it’s not about heroin, it’s a vignette of living on the Northern beaches of Sydney and all the stuff I used to see going on there.”
“The fact that it’s retro helps it out a hell of a lot because there’s a lot of cynicism in young people who love music. They go, “modern music sucks compared to when you guys were around.” I get that a hell of a lot! Particularly from people in their 20s, not right across the board, but it does occur. If we were a new band, it’d be very difficult. There is that retro thing. People love those times; we represent that, so we’re lucky we can go out and do a whole bunch of gigs.”
There’s been a revival in popularity of bands from the past touring again to roaring success. The Choirboys are no different, although the differences between touring now compared to in the 70s and 80s are clear.
“You could go gig every night of the week anywhere you wanted back in the day. Sydney alone had 250 live venues, now it has literally a handful – so that’s the difference. Back in the day, you’d release a record; Countdown would play it and Rage or whatever, the radio stations would pick it up, everyone would participate in the whole thing and you would break a new artist. This is how Split Enz took off because you had the live venues, the television, the radio, and there was a whole infrastructure that worked amazingly well. What do you do now there’s no infrastructure for people up and coming? That doesn’t occur anymore. It’s sad.
But that would be the way bands broke – you’d go out and work live. You would do shows, develop your songs and your performance capabilities, your stamina, your ideas, interact with the audience, compete with other bands – that isn’t there now. This is why we don’t have a plethora of new modern, viable Australian or even overseas music. The live venues have gone into pokie machines. It’s very expensive, they’ve got to be sound proofed, staffed – it’s very complicated [and] expensive. I get it, but those days are gone.”
The Choirboys are busy. They have a live album (recorded five years ago when the band toured with Def Leppard) due out in a couple of months, and two future albums in the works. The first, an album called 1965, which is about the essence of Australia and the world in the mid 60s, and what it meant to them growing up in that time. The following release will be about the beached areas of Australia in the 70s and what that was like. He mentions a fourth – a complicated record that will only have three cords.
He says the new way of music is via the internet and a focus on music videos. As a self-confessed tech-nut with a “house full of computers, ipads, Xboxes, you name it”, he says they’re going to embrace online media with their release. It’s this new way of thinking that keeps the band alive, working and relevant, but he confesses there’s nothing like seeing a band play live.
“They’ve worked it out scientifically, there’s a chemical reaction between the listener and the performer. Now I know it sounds nutty but there’s some sort of interaction that happens live and in the moment which is obviously what you don’t get when you put the album on.”
“You see live footage of AC/DC, Metallica or The Eagles, back in the day, and see people go psycho! Or Midnight Oil classically; if you’ve ever seen people go nuts, Midnight Oil were the ones. You see the audience going berserk with a band that they love. It was just unbelievable. [It] makes you feel something. When we go to pubs, or you’re at a dance or party, and people put music on, you get up, have a dance and have some fun. It’s benign and barbaric, but it’s really cool (laughs).”
Mark was recently named an ambassador for Record Store Day 2017. He lives in New South Wales with his partner country singer/songwriter, Melinda Schneider and their four-and-a-half year old son, Sullivan. He has five children from a previous relationship. Despite both being talented musicians in their own right, he’s adamant they try not to get involved in each other’s work, despite the constant requests for collaboration. Although, he does praise her abilities, calling her an amazing and incredibly live singer, noting that although she is known for her country chops, she can sing anything, especially rock n roll.
Her mother Mary Schneider is a country music veteran, and encouraged Melinda to be on stage from a young age. I ask if they have similar plans for Sullivan.
“He likes singing around the house but we have no interest in pushing him to pursue music. He doesn’t like being in the lime light or made a fuss over.”